Regional police officers now carrying Tasers - little public discussion on the need and nothing in the way of notice.

News 100 blueBy Pepper Parr

June 7, 2015


The use of Tasers by police forces across Canada has been an issue for many – whacking someone with a massive jolt of electricity is better than shooting them – but a number of people die from the electrical shock from a Taser.

Taser’s are not cheap and a police force needs time and money to train its staff.

Why does all this matter – because the Halton Regional Police Force is now arming some of its officers with Taser’s.

There hasn’t been any public discussion about the need for the weapon. Burlington’s representative on the Police Services Board hasn’t said a word and we have not seen a media release on the introduction of Tasers.

The Gazette was given a heads up a number of months ago that the Halton Regional Police had placed an order for 400 units.

HRPS taser

That yellow object just above the police officers right hand is the pistol grip of a Taser. Burlington is reported to have ordered several hundred of the devices.

We realized the order had been placed and that officers were now armed with the deadly weapon device when we saw one of the devices on the hip of asn officer investigating a disturbance complaint in front of a local pub.

A Taser isn’t meant to kill but the piece that follows – which came from the CBC – makes it pretty clear that they do and that many police forces are not properly trained.

Tasers are hand-held weapons that deliver a jolt of electricity through a pair of wires propelled by compressed air from up to 10.6 metres away.

The jolt stuns the target by causing an uncontrollable contraction of the muscle tissue. The target is immobilized and falls to the ground — regardless of pain tolerance or mental focus.

Taser stands for “Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle.” It is named after a series of children’s science-fiction novels written in the early 20th century featuring the young genius inventor Tom Swift.

Who makes them?
Arizona-based Taser International makes virtually all of the stun guns being used today. The technical term for a stun gun is a “conducted energy device” (CED) or “conducted energy weapon” (CEW).  Taser International says more than 16,200 law enforcement agencies in more than 40 countries use its devices. Since early 1998, more than 543,000 Taser brand immobilizers have been sold to law enforcement agencies.

There are five main types of stun guns made by Taser used by law enforcement agencies:

M26: A high-powered weapon marketed to police forces to stop “highly combative individuals.” A burst of compressed nitrogen launches two small probes attached to the device by conductive wires. From as far as 10.6 metres, the device transmits electrical pulses through the wires to immobilize a person. Also has a laser sight for aiming.
X26: A smaller model introduced in 2003. Launches two small probes as far as 10.6 metres.
X3: A triple-shot semi-automatic introduced in 2009. Capable of deploying three separate sets of two small probes as far as 10.6 metres as a backup shot in the event of a miss or to stop up to three separate targets.
X2: A double-shot semi-automatic introduced in 2011. Capable of deploying two separate sets of two small probes as far as 10.6 metres as a backup shot in the event of a miss or to stop up to two separate targets.
XREP: A CED projectile deployed by a pump action 12-guage shotgun round capable of hitting targets as far away as 30 metres.

What is ‘excited delirium?’
Excited delirium has been cited as a factor in the deaths of several people who were shocked by stun guns.
According to some psychologists, a person with excited delirium acts agitated, violent, sweats profusely and is unusually strong and insensitive to pain. Then, the victim’s heart races and eventually stops beating.

In the United States, Tasers are not considered firearms and are legal for civilian use in most states. Some cities, counties and states do restrict — or ban — their use by people who are not police officers. The company will not ship its product outside the United States unless the person placing the order holds a valid import/export permit.

In Canada, however, Tasers are a prohibited weapon. Only one company can import them into Canada under a special permit, and they can only sell the devices to law enforcement agencies, said RCMP Cpl. Greg Gillis, who trains police officers in how to use Tasers. Each Taser sale is registered and tracked, much like a handgun, he said.

Tasers are supposed to allow police officers to subdue violent individuals without killing them. A police officer can “take down” a threatening suspect without worrying that a stray bullet might kill or injure an innocent bystander.

“There’s no question that there are certainly lots of documented examples in Canada where had we not had the Taser and had to respond with more traditional options, that it could have resulted in a higher level of force,” said Gillis. “For example, the firearm: … with a firearm, there are only two outcomes … it’s going to be a permanent injury or a loss of life.”

“We don’t speak often enough about the number of lives that have been saved, the number of people that are up and walking around today that might not have been had it not been for a Taser,” says Steve Palmer, executive director of the Canadian Police Research Centre. The CPRC is a partnership among the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the RCMP and the National Research Council of Canada.

Amnesty International says that between 2001 and August 2008, 334 Americans died after Taser shocks. The stun gun was deemed to have caused or contributed to at least 50 of those deaths, Amnesty says, citing medical examiners and coroners. Most suspects were unarmed, and many were subjected to repeated or prolonged shocks, according to Amnesty.

On Oct. 14, 2007, Robert Dziekanski, 40, of Pieszyce, Poland, died at Vancouver International Airport after being shocked five times with a Taser by RCMP officers.  Airport security called the RCMP for help after Dziekanski allegedly was pounding on windows and throwing chairs and computer equipment.

Initially, the Mounties speculated that he died from a rare condition called excited delirium. Excited delirium is described as an agitated state in which a person experiences an irregular heartbeat and suddenly dies. It can happen to psychiatric patients and people using drugs such as cocaine. But critics charge that excited delirium is not a valid medical term.

A coroner concluded Dziekanski died as a result of the stress from both the Taser stuns and the struggle with police as they pinned him to the ground and handcuffed him.
How much electricity does a Taser use?  News reports will often quote the voltage delivered by a Taser — up to 50,000 volts. That sounds like a lot of electricity, but it’s a misleading way of expressing the power a Taser uses.

Voltage and current:  Electricity is the flow of electrons through a wire or other conductor. Voltage and current are two separate ways of measuring electricity.  Voltage is the amount of force that is driving a flow of electrons. If you imagine electricity as water flowing through a pipe, the voltage is the water pressure in the pipe.   Current, measured in amperes or amps, is the rate of flow of electrons through a wire, similar to the rate of water flow in a pipe, measured in litres per second.   It’s possible for an electrical circuit to have high voltage, but low current. It would be analogous to a dentist’s water jet used to remove plaque: high pressure, but low flow.   A low-voltage, high-current circuit would be analogous to a storm sewer. A great deal of water passes through but at low pressure.

Tasers work by passing electricity through a pair of wires. Weighted barbed hooks at the ends of the wires are propelled toward the target by compressed air.  Tasers are designed to incapacitate a person through up to five centimetres of clothing. Taser International says the electrical pulse is delivered at a high voltage because the electric current has to pass through clothing and air — neither of which is a good conductor of electricity — to make a complete circuit with the target’s skin.

Taser International also says that while its device can deliver up to 50,000 volts in an open air arc only, it does not deliver that much voltage to a person’s body. The company says its Taser X26 delivers an average of 1,200 volts.   As well, the high-voltage pulse of a Taser is said to carry only a small current, typically 0.002 to 0.03 amps.

By comparison, electrical outlets in Canada deliver 120 volts of electricity, and the current they carry depends on the appliance that’s plugged into them. A 60-watt light bulb, for example, pulls 0.5 amps, while a toaster pulls about five amps.   It’s possible to suffer a fatal shock from a household electrical socket, at just 120 volts with 15 amps, if enough current passes through the body.

The procedures, conducted by U.S.-based lab National Technical Systems, found that 10 per cent of the X26 model Tasers produced more electrical current than the weapon’s specifications.

In some cases, the current was up to 50 per cent stronger than specified. The X26 Tasers were manufactured before 2005 and are one of the most commonly used models.

Taser International said CBC made scientific errors by failing to spark-test the weapons before firing them, a process the company recommends police officers do on a regular basis. But engineers who reviewed the testing protocol for CBC said the tests were based on solid practices.
What’s the Canadian perspective?

Since Dziekanski’s death,Taser use in Canada has come under intense scrutiny.

The RCMP in May 2010, released new stun gun restrictions, indicating officers are only permitted to use the weapons in cases where a person is causing bodily harm or an officer has “reasonable grounds” to believe a person will “imminently” harm someone.

RCMP officers must also give a verbal warning “where tactically feasible” before using their stun guns, according to the new policy.

In December 2009, Paul Kennedy, head of the Commission for Complaints Against the RCMP, the RCMP watchdog agency, had released a damning report on the conduct of RCMP involved in the Dziekanski’s death. Specifically, Kennedy criticized the RCMP’s training practices and use of force guidelines, saying the force appears to have dropped historic guidelines directing officers to minimize intervention and use the least amount of force required to get the best results.

A provincial public inquiry into the use of Tasers and the death of Dziekanski began on May 5, 2008, in Vancouver under commissioner Thomas Braidwood, a retired B.C. Appeal Court justice. In a preliminary report made public July 23, 2009, he concluded that stun guns can be deadly and that the B.C. provincial government had abdicated its responsibility to establish province-wide standards for their use.

After the release of the first report, the B.C. provincial government said it would act immediately to adopt Braidwood’s recommendations.

The Braidwood Inquiry in its final report, released in June 2010, concluded the RCMP was not justified in using a Taser against Dziekanski.

“This tragic case is, at its heart, a story of shameful conduct by a few officers,” Braidwood said.

The report called for an independent provincial body to investigate police actions and warned that public confidence in the RCMP was flagging.
How many police forces use stun guns?

Across Canada, 129 law enforcement agencies were using CEWs by the end of 2010.

In 2008, the RCMP, which introduced Tasers into its arsenal in 2001, had 2,800 Tasers and 9,100 officers who were trained to use them.

Figures compiled by the Canadian Police Research Centre suggest that most mid-size police forces use stun guns between 50 to 60 times a year on average. They were used 51 times in 2006 by police officers in Quebec.

Statistics prepared by RCMP officers show that Mounties drew or threatened to draw their Tasers more than 1,400 times in 2007, up from 597 in 2005.

Public concern is growing over the increasing use of Tasers in light of mixed reports on their safety and the lack of details surrounding incidents of Taser deployment by law enforcement agencies. Many of the incident reports released publicly by the RCMP are incomplete, with several key areas left blank.

That was probably more information than you wanted or needed – given what we now know does Halton really need Tasers?

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